TESTIMONY OF MITCH ELLIS, CHIEF, BRANCH OF WILDLIFE RESOURCES, NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES CONSERVATION, WILDLIFE AND OCEANS, ON H.R. 3937, REVOKING A PORTION OF PUBLIC LAND ORDER 3442 WITH RESPECT TO CERTAIN LANDS ERRONEOUSLY INCLUDED IN THE CIBOLA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, CALIFORNIA
May 16, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Mitch Ellis, Chief of the Branch of Wildlife Resources, National Wildlife Refuge System. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today in support of H.R. 3937, which will revoke a small portion of Public Land Order 3442, dated August 21, 1964. This Public Land Order withdrew approximately 16,600 acres of public domain lands along the Colorado River in California and Arizona for the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. The withdrawal erroneously included a small area of approximately 140 acres in Imperial County at the southern boundary of the California portion of refuge.
Prior to 1964, this property fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, beginning in 1962, the BLM issued a permit for a public recreation concession on the lands now in question. Because neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) nor the BLM recognized the mistake in legal descriptions on the ground, the BLM continued to renew the original permit and the recreational concession use has continued, unbroken, to the present time, although the BLM lease did expire in April 2002. The concession and location are commonly know as "Walter's Camp," which consists of a recreational vehicle park, a small marina, and a store, and the BLM estimates that Walter's Camp receives 11,000 visitors per year.
The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Act) requires that all uses of refuge lands be compatible with the purpose for which the refuge was established. Section 4(a) of the Act and section 204(j) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act both prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from revoking withdrawals of land within National Wildlife Refuges. For this reason, congressional action is required to remove these lands from the Refuge System.
Given the fact that the concession is not directly related to wildlife, it is highly unlikely that the Service could find it to be compatible with refuge purposes. Absent legislative action, we will most likely be forced to evict the concessionaire should these lands remain in the refuge. The Department has been exploring alternatives to addressing this issue since the error was discovered in 1999.
Since the inclusion of these lands in the Public Land Order was certainly a mistake, due to the prior existence of the concession, we believe the most equitable solution is removal of the lands from the refuge. There are no listed species inhabiting the 140 acres and the area in question is, at best, marginal wildlife habitat. Removal of the 140 acres of land from the refuge would free-up the area necessary for the continuation of the recreational concession, while still affording more than adequate protection for the nearest significant wildlife habitat feature, Three Fingers Lake.
We believe that withdrawal of these lands will benefit all parties involved — the concessionaire, the Service, the BLM and, ultimately, the public. For this reason, we support the bill and urge prompt action on enactment of H.R.3937.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement and I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.